The San Francisco 49ers may have gotten a wake-up call last Sunday.
After an emotional win over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in one of the wildest regular season games in the last decade, the 49ers were shocked at home by the visiting Atlanta Falcons, 29-22.
While a laundry list of injuries — particularly on the defensive side of the ball — may have contributed to this massive let down, the 49ers seemed very aware that their guard may have been down heading into this game.
“We didn’t come out and play nearly as hard as they did,” 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa said after the loss.”
Nonetheless, the 49ers still have a chance to control their own destiny in terms of playoff seeding with their next two games. San Francisco’s first game on the docket will be against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday at Levis’ Stadium.
Here are three things to watch when the 49ers and Rams meet head-to-head.
Bouncing back from last week’s let down
Asking around the 49ers locker room last week, players and coaches knew that there would be a risk of falling into what they called a “trap game.” In other words, it was a game that was easy to overlook — and boy, did the 49ers do that.
On a last-second touchdown catch from Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones, the 49ers were shocked as a third loss was slapped on their record, bumping them back down to the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff picture and placing even more pressure on their next two games.
The good news for San Francisco now is that they have a chance to put what tight end George Kittle called a “sour taste in my mouth,” behind them as the Rams come to town.
While San Francisco has already clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2013, the focus is now set on obtaining the No. 1 seed in the NFC that will also be accompanied by home field advantage and a first-round bye.
The first matter of business: Beat Los Angeles, who is coming off of a 44-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. If the 49ers can do that, it will set up a battle for the ages against the Seattle Seahawk in the regular season finale.
The Rams are no longer the kings of the NFC West
This time last season, the Los Angeles Rams were the second-seeded team in the NFC after a winning 13 games in which it averaged 32.9 points per game — the second most in the league in 2018.
This season, however, the Rams have experienced a slight fall from grace, winning just eight games to this point of the season. They even lost to the 49ers back in Week 6 when they were held to just seven points at the LA Coliseum.
Now it’s time for San Francisco to host. And with playoff seeding on the mind, handling the Rams, who are also still in the hunt for an NFC wild card spot, should raise this game’s importance higher than it already is.
It’s also a chance to cement the 49ers as one of the top-two dominant teams in the NFC West division — a title, the Rams held just a year ago.
Sherman should be back
San Francisco dearly missed Richard Sherman last week. It wasn’t necessarily his high-volume leadership role in the huddle or walking down the sideline. It was the overwhelming, savvy coverage he provides on receivers down field.
Without Sherman, the Falcons were able to use wide receiver Julio Jones to exploit San Francisco’s secondary — also devoid of safety Jaquiski Tartt and nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams.
Second-year corner Emmanuel Moseley, who stepped into Sherman’s place was simply too small and not fast enough to keep up with Jones.
Against a stacked receiving corps in Los Angeles complete with Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, San Francisco may be in trouble defending the pass without Sherman.
Luckily for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and the rest of the 49ers defensive coaching staff, Sherman should be back in action on Saturday night.
“I’ll be out there,” Sherman said. “There is no question. There’s nothing I need to show them. I’ve gone through practice. Today we had a full-speed practice. No tweaks, nothing to be concerned about on my end. We feel comfortable about it.”
Sherman has been nursing a hamstring injury suffered in the late stages of the 49ers 48-46 win over the Saints in Week 14 but clearly, the nine-year veteran believes he’s ready to suit up.